If you are living with the rawness of the betrayal of your Love, life, and self this holiday are going to be hard. And even if you aren’t living with the newness of it all, the holidays may be hard regardless.
If you are new to this experience I imagine you may not hear me.
I hardly heard anything the first six months. Tough to hear anything past the sound of your own shattering heart. Even the self inflicted wound is still a wound.
I just want to mention a few things.
First let me dropped this truth into the middle of this: for all those years I was carrying the secrets and lies, Anxiety was my real mistress. Anxiety became my muse and the holidays were ancillary to the demands Anxiety made.
I did and said things to C and K specifically to avoid Anxiety. It is incredibly prideful and self-serving for either of these women to think my behaviors around my betrayal was about them.
That is not the same as saying “my betrayal, secrets, and escalating series of lies didn’t injure them” or “they should get over it.”
Conversations around infidelity and healing would be far different if at some point in time the people involved would talk about the Thing as opposed to the Way of The Thing. Many people will never get there because it means setting aside pride, predjudice, entitlement, and being honest and self-reflective.
As I said, Anxiety was my real mistress. All I ever wanted was to be with C and all my Anxiety wanted was for me to run away from the vulnerability required to be with her. My anxiety wanted safety but safe relationships only grow from secure relationships. In hindsight I realize because of my history and C’s history the relationship was never secure.
As such, I went into every holiday wondering how it was going to be ruined. Every time C’s phone or mine rang my heart rate spiked, expecting some bomb to be dropped into our life.
Eventually, a bomb did drop.
I still hate this fucking holiday and simply want it over with. I would sleep through it if I could figure out how to make that happen. My schedule and time determined by the expectations of others and me going along to get along as I simply fake my way through it all. Anxious filled as I try to make everyone happy.
As I told a friend at the Christmas party last night over cookies and wine, I’m still terrorized by Anxiety when I go into crowds around the holidays.
…but here is the thing, I refuse to be a slave to Anxiety and the stories I make up about it. I refuse to let my relationships be defined by what I am afraid might happen.
I have allowed Anxiety to ruin my marriage and my relationship with C. It has ruined other relationships, jobs, and experiences.
I know this now. I keep showing up today specifically because a core lesson of this experience is Anxiety means well but it lies.
If you cheated with a coworker the company holiday party is going to feel like a trap. Sleeping with someone from the congregation is going to make the sermon hard to hear. If it was your partner’s friend or a sibling, well all I can say is good luck. There is absolutely nothing you can do but move through the consequences. Running and avoidance will simply perpetuate the pain and suffering.
Whether you are pursuing reconciliation or pursuing your new partner, your old life and old relationship is dead…and so are the old holiday traditions.
In this vacuum, surrounded by death and change, Anxiety, Pain, Shame, and Loneliness, The Four Horsemen of Betrayal, will want to rule.
Without malice the men and women we betrayed may have gone to a family member or friend and dumped their emotions and the stories they imagine onto other relationships.
Sometimes they may do it with malice.
The new reality is friends and family gatherings will have the scent of our betrayal everywhere. Depending on the ages of our kids and our partner’s emotional agility, our kids, parents, siblings, and in-laws may know too much. And the stories we imagine will be even worse so we may emotionally shut down, preemptively start fights, posture with defensiveness, or overcompensate with grandiosity and gifts.
We may also pretend normal trying in an attempt to maintain the status quo or we hide in the basement when the inlaws are there so we don’t have to feel the shaming of their silence or words.
We will do all kinds of understandably human things to avoid The Four Horsemen of Betrayal.
After I owned the reality that I betrayed my Love, life, and self I had to recognize these simple truth: my coping skills suck, I don’t state what I need or want, I avoid hard conversations, I make excuses for my actions, I overlook red flags, I am vulnerable to unsafe people, I have hidden trauma needing confronted, and I confuse my feelings for directives.
Essentially, up to recently, I lack the very skills that would be required to reconcile or build a secure functioning relationship. More importantly, until recently I lacked awareness I lacked the skills. Knowing something is not the same as knowing what to do about something.
The other part that I’ve come to recognize: the people that choose to be in a relationship with me lack the same skills.
If anything is going to work moving forward I need to treat their lack of skillfulness with generosity and compassion. The same generosity and compassion I need for myself so I can move through the Anxiety of it all.
I have to make peace with Anxiety, Pain, Shame, and Loneliness. These Four Horsemen of Betrayal I mentioned earlier are not the enemy. They are simply the messengers. The Enemy is my unwillingness to sit with them and listen to the message.
When I do that Anxiety loses its power over my life.
My secrets and lies became public the day after Thanksgiving 2017, thirty days before Christmas.
More sadly for me, the way my life was structured, and the way my consequences fell, I felt I had nowhere to go. I was told by C and others I wasn’t welcome in YoYo Town and to never come back to the region. At the time I believed that was about me, but I’ve come to learn that was about C and her secrets, anxiety and watching too many episodes of Showtime’s Shameless.
In the first 30 days I spent 10 to 15 nights sleeping in the van in Walmart parking lots between North Dakota, Kansas City, St Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. I slept on my parent’s couch on Christmas Eve.
I collapsed in on my myself. I stopped talking to people. I hid in shame and anxiety. I withdrew, and I believed as gospel every horrible, shitty, and abusive thing C and others directed towards me even as I defended my life against the narrative being peddled by C’s new heroes, broken knights, would be suitors, and Flying Monkeys.
I’m sure I had other options. I just couldn’t see them through the pain and despair.
I averaged three or four hours of sleep for the first four months. It was nearly a year before I could get a full nights sleep without whiskey or pills, and even then it was hardly restful. It is impossible to think clearly when you are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.
Which makes the holidays even more difficult. Lots of sugar, high expectations, inherent drama, social demands, and poor sleep combine to fuel exhaustion.
For me exhaustion is Anxiety’s crack, one feeding the other. The holiday is the dealer.
I contemplated disappearing into the beet fields of the Dakotas. I danced with thoughts of suicide. There are worse way to go than hyperthermia.
As such, I realized if I didn’t keep moving forward I’d die.
So I put on the mask and moved forward. Met with my therapist every week. Started taking Lexapro. I showed up every day.
If I felt Anxiety about a situation I did it anyway. I invited people to dinner on my birthday. I found an apartment in YoYo Town. I went to public gatherings. I went to cafes and restaurants C and other haters might be at. I went dancing. I wrote.
Whatever my Anxiety told me to do I tried to do the opposite.
I was stranded in Chicago so I took two nights of dance lessons. When in St Louis I went to the Laumeier Sculpture Park. Omaha took my to the Golden Spike. Every stop I tried to add something of value to the experience. I did this despite every step I could feel the weight of my sorrow and Anxiety whispering stories of doom.
For example, atmthe market yesterday I saw the wife of one of C’s Flying Monkey’s. As she ignored me, head down, pretending not to see me, I called out her name, and looked her in the eye, said “Hi” and told her to enjoy her holiday.
That was for me not her. Not being emotionally blackmailed into non-existence is my responsibility. I can only be cancelled from existence if I believe the stories my Anxieties tell me about the silence.
Last night I went to a christmas party surrounded by people that I imagine know C and the story.
When I showed up I saw a truck in the road that I thought belong to one of C’s Flying Monkeys. I stood in the driveway for a minute, eye’s closed, the cold winter air on my face, and breathed deeply, listening to Anxiety telling me to run.
I thanked Anxiety for trying to protect me, and with the help of a friend, I walked in anyway.
It turned out just to be a story my anxiety made up. Anxiety’s stories follow neurological state. Anxiety means well. It didn’t want me to be hurt or bullied or harmed but feelings are data, not directives.
But the emotional hangover lagged, and as I walked down the steps in front of 20 people, I tripped and slid down the steps because I was paying more attention to what might happen to me instead of what was actually happening with me about my grand entrance I responded reflectively, “I fall down but I get up.”
And that is one more lesson about Anxiety: anxiety doesn’t experience the moment.
The reason I’m telling you this is because despite the stories our Anxieties weave over the holidays it is just that: stories.
We can listen to them and hear them but acting on what they are telling us is still a choice. It is going to take persistence to separate what Anxiety is telling us from what is actually happening from what needs done.it will take a few holiday seasons if you are committed to the experience.
For me I’m learning Anxiety isn’t the obstacle but how I react to it’s whispers and shouts can become a habit. Anxiety tells me if it hurts now it will always hurt. Anxiety tells me if I try changing I will fail. Anxiety tells me if I am vulnerable I will be betrayed.
I don’t need to have an answer for everything Anxiety tells me. It isn’t a conversation, it is an echo. Hurting is not self-pity. Not knowing how to move forward isn’t weakness. Uncertainty about how to proceed isn’t unmanly. Bravado is anxiety disguised. On the best days I can listen to the message, acknowledge the anxiety, thank it for helping, take a deep breath and open the door.
Everytime I open the door I create a new opportunity to live with courage and integrity and at other times I will fall down the steps. It isn’t that you cheated and failed that matters. What matters is you get up.
You can do this. You aren’t alone.
You are worthy of being loved. It isn’t earned. It isn’t given. It simply exists even if no one else recognizes it. As hard as it is now, if you do the work you will be able to hold your head high, look people in the eyes, and live without shame.
About twenty days after discovery a friend pulled me aside and gave me a quote from Emerson. It has become a taproot for everything I have tried to do since this new life started. It is my gift to you. Maybe you can find some a touchstone for moving forward.
I know the holidays are hard. So many expectations, carefully curated Instagram and Facebook posts it is easy to find fuel for Anxieties demands. There is no magic bullet. Staying or leaving your relationship will not silence Anxiety. My anxiety loses it’s power when I hear it an act anyway. It’s the only way to learn.
I love you.